Death is in vogue in Underworld: Awakening, but only insofar as it can be leveraged to shock and awe the desensitized living. Bodies fall, bones break, and heads are ripped off (or in half) in spectacularly banal fashion—essentially, the polar opposite of the destructive poetry of John Woo’s The Killer. This third sequel in the vampires-versus-lycans saga complicates the centuries-long war being waged between the two species with the discovery of their existence by humankind, the leaders of which proceed with an attempted purging of the unwanted creatures of the night. But like the rest of the film’s noxious offerings, even this novel idea goes totally wasted, stripped free of meaning or context and ultimately nothing more than a briefly diverting twist. Vampire warrioress Selene (Kate Beckingsale), shot as if she were the drug-addled subject of an apathetic fetish photographer, returns to waking life after more than a decade of cryogenic sleep and finds that the tables have turned in more ways than one. Alas, Selene is no Ellen Ripley, and this is certainly no Aliens. Hell, it’s not even Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.
Much like the film’s pointless 3D effects, these gimmicky narrative developments mostly serve as a reminder of how rotten things have been in this particular series since day one. The cheap-looking CGI—disguised by gratuitous shadows, flickering lights, and belligerent camerawork—is but one of the many embarrassing ways this effort wears its rushed and unimaginative production on its sleeves, making one long for the comparatively rich characterizations and cinematography of your average 1990s PlayStation game. Having been betrayed by her nocturnal kind time and again, Selene has only family to fight for this time around, but the patchwork script can barely muster the energy to go through the emotive motions, proving equal parts perfunctory (Selene’s compounding familial revelations are contemptuously tossed-off) and imbecilic (a vampire father and son’s military quarrel, suggesting Republican presidential debates yet to come).
The only thing that manages to outpace Underworld: Awakening’s ineptitude is its utter soullessness, its nihilistic glamour amounting to little more than trendy feminism and lip service to maternal drive, all rooted in the broad male fantasy of She Who Kicks Ass. Zack Snyder’s idiosyncratic, self-devouring, and underrated Sucker Punch suffered similar criticisms, but for all its gloriously prurient indulgences, that film exhibited Snyder’s talent for framing the shot and composing an eye-candy sequence, to say nothing of its thematic attributes. With Awakening, what you see is what you get, if that, and amid the film’s handful of confusingly blocked, excessively noisy, and common-sense-deprived set pieces, not a single image can be described as inspired, memorable, or even cool. What one comes away with, then, is an odious aftertaste of anti-human callousness. The film’s non-ending promises more adventures to come, and a palpable fear germinates that the bar can yet be lowered still.